the things we carried
Last night, Tim O'Brien came to speak at a local school. He is the author of the much anthologized "The Things They Carried", and many novels. He has recently turned that short story into a book, all revolving around the theme of the original story.
"The Things They Carried" is about an infantry group in Vietnam; the story of their experience told, literally, according to the things they carried. There is a plot, but it isn't linear; you know where the story is going from the outset, his description dosen't so much get you there as much as fill it out.
Reading the story is more like looking at a snapshot than watching a movie. The whole scene is a stillshot; the prose is poetic, descriptive. The effect that O'Brien achieves is a sense of reality.
For combat vets, the scene is remarkably, almost disturbingly familiar. O'Brien is reading your memory, putting you back in the moment. A lot of the details may be differant, but you've been there: perhaps with differant equipment, perhaps a differant situation, but you've been there.
For civilians, this story is a vicious, touching taste of the daily life of a soldier. Oddly, non-military types seem more affected by the story than vets. Several incedents seem shocking, all the more so because they are told with such casualness; but the casual nature of it is a part of living the life.
Either way, his writing is the most accurate, and effective, piece of war-story I've seen or read. It reminds me of "A Day in the Life of Ivan Dinisovitch", only much less boring; it is a perfect rendition of "A Day in the Life".
Which is all the more surprising because, strictly speaking, O'Brien's stories aren't true. He is a Vietnam Vet, but the stories he tells mostly never happened. I get nervous when people start fooling around with the word "Truth", and the ambiguity it leaves, but in this case O'Brien has managed to deliver the truth through fiction. He has taken what he saw and, in a process known to many as "Telling war-stories", he has hit home on the reality of war. It isn't "True", but it is the Truth.
(To be continued...)